Tax hike passage allows Moraine to adjust priorities

The approval of an income tax increase in Moraine this week gives city leaders some promise of reversing a trend of skimping on road repairs, delaying new purchases, cutting jobs and freezing wages.

The temporary .5 percent tax hike passed by voters Tuesday will add a projected $1.88 million annually to the city’s budget, which was $16.5 million in 2013, according to city records. The vote puts Moraine’s income tax rate at 2.5 percent.

It also will allow officials to re-examine spending priorities in a way they have not in this decade, officials said.

The additional money “will allow us to catch up on our capital (projects) in the next five years,” City Manager David Hicks said. “We have road projects and other things that have been postponed because we couldn’t afford them then.

“Over the next five years we’ll get an idea for long-term projections and where we’ll be,” he said, calling the city’s financial situation without the tax increase’s passage “dire.”

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City Council will review the finances in the coming weeks and possibly outline priorities by July 1, when the tax hike takes effect, said Mayor Elaine Allison.

“I’m not going to say there is one area of consensus with council because what we had a consensus on in the past may have changed based on new numbers,” she said.

Since 2009, the city has laid off employees and cut other jobs through attrition. In five years it has gone from 140 full-time and 214 part-time employees to 102 full-time and 49 part-time workers, records show.

The cuts were made after Moraine has lost some of its largest employers since 2000. The closure of the GM plant caused the city to lose about half its income tax revenue, and it survived by using cash reserves, Hicks said.

Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. Ltd. plans in 2015 to move into the Moraine assembly plant, which is expected to create 800 new jobs. However, Allison said the city’s tax base continues to fluctuate as planned moves by the Berry Co. to Kettering and Prime Time Party Rental Inc. to West Carrollton will result in about 425 jobs leaving.

The tax hike, which runs through Dec. 31, 2019, will cost a worker in Moraine earning $50,000 annually about $250 more a year. It also opens the possibility of the city restoring rotation programs for road repairs and other capital improvements, discontinuing furloughs and giving pay raises to workers whose wages have been frozen for about four years.

The road repair program has been on a “resurfacing hiatus” in which the city has been “been reactive, not proactive” in addressing streets, Allison said. Instead, the city has often patched particularly bad stretches of road, Hicks said.

The city has been “very deliberate with what we’ve decided to do and what we’ve postponed,” he said.

Hicks said proper repairs to city buildings have also been put on hold. He would like to the city to be “putting back into place a normal rotation plan for everything. We’re not going to replace everything. But we’ll do more to repair roofs, roads and vehicles.”

Hicks said he plans to meet with council on spending priorities.

“We need to get scheduling back into place so things happen systematically,” he said.

Both Hicks and Allison said they would also like to end employee furloughs, which have involved the city’s offices closing at noon on Fridays since 2010.

“It will not be immediately,” Hicks said, “but at most point we would like to be open 40 hours a week.”

Staff Writer Cornelius Frolik contributed to this report.

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